Sometimes it really is about setting expectations. Billed as a murder mystery dinner theatre, the reality at local Vancouver eatery Ten Ten Tapas is more akin to an experience than actual dinner theatre.
Between each of the four courses, we are introduced to a number of clues by a police officer who happens to stop by after a shady character makes an appearance. With the mysterious man becoming the first victim of the evening, he becomes the catalyst for the rest of the night. Two more dead bodies and a slew of rather silly red herrings culminates with guests attempting to piece it all together to establish the motives for the murders. Much like an Agatha Christie novel though, the solution is never as black-and-white as on might hope. Our table got some of it right, but it was more blind luck than it was any real sleuthing abilities.
Part of the problem with this murder mystery is the action only really takes place between food courses. By the time more clues are revealed, the previous ones are all but forgotten. While we discover that there are a number of characters sprinkled among the guests, since none of them were at our table it is impossible to know if any interaction with them might have resulted in something more satisfying.
The end result is an evening that misses the heart of shows like Tony and Tina’s Wedding or even The Awesome 80s Prom, where participation and interaction are their biggest strengths. It also misses the mark as straight theatre since we are never truly invested in any of its characters. The stakes are also so low that by the time the solution is revealed we just want to pay our bill and get home to bed (the evening lasted an overly long four hours).
There is a place for what Ten Ten Tapas is trying to achieve. With audiences increasingly looking for a unique experience over traditional theatre it is a matter of finding the right vehicle. Many of Vancouver’s independent theatre companies are embracing this idea (minus the food) and there is no reason Ten Ten Tapas couldn’t also tap into that trend. To be successful though, requires a balance between what is scripted and what is left to the actor’s own devices. But improvisation is as much a skill as being able to act, and it takes a talented ensemble to play both sides.
In hindsight, I should have heeded my dinner companion’s warning that it would be more like a 1980’s DIY murder mystery that you might host at home, rather than actual theatre. He was right.
Not a foodie, it was a pleasant surprise to be joined by local food writer Mary Sheridan at our table. Mary and I made an immediate pact where I’d write about the theatre, and she would write about the food. You can find out what she thought of dinner at Vancouver Bits and Bites.
Murder Mystery Dinner runs at Ten Ten Tapas (1010 Beach Ave, Vancouver) on January 14 and February 11. Visit http://tententapas.com for tickets and information.